Press Conference

Hackworth talks options ahead of SuperDraft

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

As Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft approaches, John Hackworth assured fans that the remainder of the Philadelphia Union’s offseason is going to see some activity.

“Going back to last year, we didn’t have any chips to play, so to speak,” Hackworth said Monday during a conference call with media. “We had to sit there for an awful long time [on draft day] knowing that we had no moves to make.”

This year is different.

“In this particular draft, I think we have, potentially, a ton of moves,” Hackworth said. “Not only in the draft picks but some of the changes that will happen — potential trades, maybe going and making a move to bring a player in — there’s a lot that’s going to happen, it’s gonna be a very fluid process. Our staff has been working extremely hard trying to make sure we have all our bases covered.”

Center back an option

Hackworth admitted that a dearth of central defenders on the Union roster means the team will take a hard look at Cal’s young stud Christian Dean (who has Generation Adidas status) and his more mature battery mate, Steve Birnbaum.

“We need to make sure we secure ourselves one way or another,” Hackworth said. “It’s going to come down to a matter of some other moves we’re making.”

Hackworth did not detail what those moves were, but he said Birnbaum and Dean offer very different options, despite their shared position.

“Birnbaum is more ready, immediately,” Hackworth said. “He’s a senior, he doesn’t have the roster protection that having the GA status [like Dean] would allow. It’s going to be an interesting decision — not just for us but for some other teams — whether you invest in a guy like Birnbaum, who can step in and compete for a job and might be at the moment ready to at least have a more competitive chance immediately than a guy like Dean who has a ton of potential.”

Additionally, Hackworth noted that Dean struggled at left back in the combine but looked much better when he returned to his left-central position.

Trading picks?

Though the Union have two of the first six picks in the upcoming SuperDraft, Hackworth was clear that the team would only trade a pick if they really felt they were getting good value for it.

“There have been many teams that have approached us so far, but as of now we haven’t elected to make any of those deals yet,” he said. “If a team comes to us and we feel like we can make a trade in-league and that is a player that we know and has proven himself, I think that is a direction that we would clearly go in.”

What to expect

The Union coach also spoke about the types of players he sees in this draft and how it will impact the team’s on-field strategy going forward. He said that the 2014 draft class features “more depth than absolute starters.”

While he thinks quite a few guys have a chance at a long MLS career, he said, “In general, most of those guys need a little time.”

Hackworth was clear that he wants any off-season additions — SuperDraft or otherwise — to help the team’s on-field play to be more reflective of the style of game they practice.

“Certainly, there were games last year where we were effective in and I wasn’t proud of the style,” Hackworth said. “But this year, one of our biggest challenges is that we have some resources — not only in this draft in the number of picks we have and specifically the number of high picks — but we also have some resources to go outside and really make some changes, when last year we didn’t have any of those.

“So the most direct way to say: yes. We want to do that. We want to make sure that, hopefully, in terms of all of our decisions, that our style is truly being what we practice every single day and it comes out when we are playing our opponents.”

Hackworth acknowledged that communicating the focus on long-term planning and development can be difficult, even more so when the expectation informed by drafts in other American sports is that top picks will have an immediate impact.

“No question, it’s one of the biggest challenges,” Hackworth said. “When it gets put out there that we would be looking at a long-term view, I’m sure fans are going to be frustrated because they’re like, wait a second, we want to win now. And believe me, nobody wants to win more right now than all of us working on the inside. But for the longevity and long-term success of our team, you can’t be short-sighted like that. You have to take all of these things into account and have a really good balance, so that you’re not just putting all your eggs in one basket. Because if it doesn’t work out — and there are a lot of different variables — you leave yourself in a big hole going forward. We’ve experienced that as a club already in a very short amount of time.”

28 Comments

  1. It’s infuriating how vague Hackworth can be while also giving some details. This doesn’t make me feel any worse or any better about Philadelphia’s offseason moves. Make something happen.

    • i’m frustrated as well because i want to know what is going on but on the other hand they can’t really say exactly what it is they are planning to do without putting themselves in awkward or disadvantageous positions

    • kingkowboys says:

      Have you never listened to an Andy Reid press conference? At least he is informing everyone of the thought process. A professional coach should never tell the world that they plan to trade pick x and $1mill for x player on x team. That’s just stupid. I think we are getting closer to seeing the moves happen. From reading various articles I wouldn’t be surprised to see player movement on draft day. Should be an interesting day.

      • Yea you always have to take what coaches say with a grain of salt. League policy states he can’t say anything about any deals or offers until they’re confirmed (see Michael Farfan trade), and he can’t give any clues to the other teams so he still has negotiating power. There’s a scene in the movie Moneyball where Brad Pitt’s character calls 3 or 4 different teams trying to get a deal done, and he uses all the offers he gets against each other to drive the price up. Hackworth isn’t in the same atmosphere as Billy Bean, but I hope they use the same strategy.

  2. Similar to last year’s “laughable” comment, that whole last paragraph really makes me cringe. I don’t really think MLS and its parity lends itself to too much of a “long-term view”. Why can’t a club put together a winning team now that is also built for the longer-haul? Why can’t we have a team that both wins now, is well-balanced, and sets a good foundation for the future?
    .
    Even those last sentences seems like he’s preempting his excuse for poor performances in 2014.

    • You got more out of that quote to me. that entire paragraph was the equivalent of watching a turd circle around the bowl.

    • It’s tough to build for the future with four year contracts. The “core” is already talking about elsewhere. MLS is similar to the NFL in that you can turn a. Club around quickly. Look at how quickly PDX,MTL became competitive, and how quickly TFC and DCU turned their roster over. It’s one thing to be a sell on league, but an operating model to sell on within MLS sounds misguided. The U’s developmental model is too long a horizon, especially when you look at the salaries above roster spot #20. Tough to listen to whining that $46k/35k isn’t a competitive way to run a team. We get the U are cheap (check yourself with that Bradley $15M, way below he Dempsey offer, more of a Price is Right lowest without going offer), but we don’t believe they could make the smart choices like RSL/SKC. Cheap and incompetent does not instill confidence. A midfield of Cruz, Daniel, Lahoud and Carroll will not even worry Chivas.

      • PDX turned it around because they got a great coach, he got quality players to fit his system, and everyone bought in. They managed to accomplish that while the “new MLS team” smell was still fresh as well, and the city embraced it. The Union still haven’t secured an identity after 4 full seasons, and while free parking will bring back the fans on the fence, this team HAS to stabilize and establish an identity, even if that identity is to bring in youth and sell for a higher price. (I don’t want that identity, but it’s better than the chaos thus far).

      • “PDX turned it around because they got a great coach”

        Kind of the reason we haven’t “turned it around”.

        “even if that identity is to bring in youth and sell for a higher price.”

        What youth are they selling on for a higher price? Farfan? Almost felt like he forced that move. Haven’t gotten the sense there is a strategy.

  3. I’ve posted this elsewhere but it needs repeating. The difference between last year and this year’s draft(as well as off season moves) is that the Union have more rope to hang themselves with. John Hackworth wants us all to believe the their hands were so tide last year that they had no options or wiggle room to address positional weeknesses? Left back and center back etc.. could have been adressed and simply were not. They rented a DP to sit on the bench. They started Danny Cruz(nuff said) and when teams caught on to the Union’s style(?) of play Hackworth couldn’t make the in-game adjustments. Roger Torres got no significant playing time. Brian(I can’t make a forward pass) Carroll took up valuable playing time in a position that should be a no brainer for Okugo. They let Soumare go to Chicago for nothing. Again I just don’t trust the decision making of Hackworth or Sakiewicz. If they screw up this draft I am done with this team. Hackworth says that the Union don’t want to be short sighted but want to build for the long term. Unfortunately tunnel vision isn’t going to get the job done either. If you want to sell tickets put something on the pitch worth paying to see. DC, NY, New England, Columbus, Montreal, KC, Montreal are getting things done. I want the Union to be a major player this year. No more excuses!

    • Oh yeah I forgot the major moves by Toronto!

      • Agree with all you say LCBline! I am also close to giving up. I once got very excited to go to events like the HKH event this Saturday (where players will be showing up) but I am so wary of this organization that I am giving it a miss and will only donate a bit online. I am holding onto my season tickets one more time but unless things improve drastically this will be the last season. I rather donate the money I spend on season tickets to my College’s soccer program. Have more fun watching those matches, and the quality of play is often better that what I see at PPL.

    • I hope you’re not done with the team ever, and definitely not based on this draft. The club is young and there will be hope even if the drafted players all suck. I know it hurts you to see Montreal pull it together much more quickly than Philadelphia, but they have some built-in advantages. (I know it hurts you because you listed them twice!) I have low expectations for this draft, as I do every draft, and I have a reference [1]. I encourage you to hang in there and support our club! They need it!

      [1] http://www.soccermetrics.net/team-performance/recruitment-paths-mls-study

      • Thanks for the info. I used the draft because last year was mismanaged. I’m also disgusted with the player moves, who started consistently, the boring style of play, the mediocre skill set of certain starters and the coaches inability to adjust. This team needs to compete with it’s rivals not only thru the draft but in the overall market not just on the field. It’s starts with the ownership and the management of Sakiwecz and Hackworth. I don’t see a lot of pro level soccer knowledge there. I don’t want to give up on the Union since I’ve waited so long for a Philadephia team. I’m willing to wait and see but who they bring in and who they draft will show me just how committed this organization is going forward. I wish the primary ownership group was Comcast and we had a coach who has actually played professional soccer. We had that with Nowak, in spite of his “agenda.” Oh yeah I didn’t mean to list Montreal twice it was supposed to be Toronto. Thanks again.

  4. John O'Donnell says:

    The way he talks, I get the feeling we might take Andrea Blake with the pick and maybe trade him. Someone like the Revs would make for a good partner as you could get the #4 and #12 for him maybe as they could use a goalie. Doesn’t hurt that he played his college career in New England either.

    The Good thing is if you get stuck with him he is a GA player so you still have a year to deal him. Also you can still pick up some good depth with the #6 pick.

  5. The Black Hand says:

    How, in the name of all that is holy, is this man still the manager of the Philadelphia Union? SuperDraft Schmooperdraft…it really doesn’t matter. We are shit, with him at the helm.

  6. James lockerbie says:

    Wait a minute everybody wanted Sir Peter’s head after he went crazy. Now after one full season your calling for Hackworth’s head. I say we give him this season to show us what he’s got and then we’ll see where we’re at. I mean there’s been enough up and downs so far in the past few years. Yes, I share a lot of the same concerns ,where he’s playing guys and his lack of adjusting to game day realities. I just don’t think the fans could handle a new manager right now.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I was calling for his head last year. Now, II’m calling for his head, hands and feet. I can’t remember seeing a more inept manager. His talent evaluation is garbage and his game management and team selection is even worse. I didn’t see a need for him last year, and I see even less now. Some guys have what it takes. Hackworth, simply, does not. I know that my criticisms are very harsh and that being a professional manager is no easy feat. That said, Hack has shown, time and time again, that he can’t cut it. Now, with very little TEAM to speak of, is a good time to bring in a new philosophy; One that is keyed towards establishing a little quality on the pitch. Our club was not great, last year, but we had the talent to improve. Instead, we had…I really don’t even know what to call it. Not excited about the strong possibility of more of the same. Apologies for my spewing of negativity. It has been a while…

      • James lockerbie says:

        OK, then the next question is who? Who do we want to replace him. I mean maybe your right. Do it now while we have the money free to the new coach to
        pick his guys right?

      • The Black Hand says:

        I would be open to any candidate. I don’t feel that we have the right guy within our current system, but do think that a young ambitious manager could be found without a ton of digging. Hackworth has very little control over his club, with the exception being his selections. I don’t feel that he has enough knowledge of the game, in the sense of how it should be played the higher levels. Hackworth is better suited to influence players who are just starting out. Again, I would take (just about) anyone else…Peter Nowak included.

  7. James lockerbie says:

    Look at some of the epl teams they fire managers so often they have to hire the same guy back a few years later.

  8. I would tend to agree with the side arguing that Hackworth is in over his head and Nick Sak is full of BS.
    That being said, both of them have been leading us on with big talk all year and all offseason. Now the script seems to say that a tons of things will happen before, during and after the draft. I will give them this time to see how everything pans out. If nothing happens (beyond making our selections in the draft) then there really needs to be some major upheaval with the fans and SOB. I just don’t know how we can even go into next season with Keon, Cruz, Carroll, Lahoud ALL still on the roster and no defensive depth.

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